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The Candidates: Ms. Panday, Dirty Harry, the Clone and the Mayor

Let’s not fool ourselves into believing that the May election is one in which Filipino voters will choose a President they think  has the best platform of government for the country.

The scheduled “presidential” debates are not likely to be real exchanges of rational thinking to crystallize issues in the same way the college debates of our youth sought to thresh out issues. It will be a contest of sound bites, of the best and most imaginative verbal dirt-hurling in an “ang-pikon-talo” match – all intended to project a certain image of the candidate.

We all know that candidates just pay underpaid academics or speechwriters to come up with platforms, and they just do what they want to do and don’t do what they don’t want to do when they become president.

It is entirely a contest of image-building, even atrociously false ones. Thanks to the survey of Mr. Pedro Laylo Jr., made public in the Manila Standard, we have an empirical basis to describe these images. (You can access this athttp://thestandard.com.ph/news/headlines/198854/poe-keeps-lead-in-laylo-survey.html)

The real candidates for President in May 2016
The real candidates for President in May 2016

Candidate No. 1: Ms. Panday

The first candidate is Ms. Panday, Panday II, or Panday’s daughter – Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares. C’mon, people are not voting for this foundling, or more probably the winter-spring lovechild of a 51-year old Philippine President with a 20-year old starlet, even putting her at the head of the pack.

They are not voting for this well-off Assumption College alumna who preferred to pursue the American dream in the US of A, and who worked in short-stints as a grade-school teacher, as “procurement liaison” for an obscure US government agency, and as sales assistant for an even more obscure private firm.

People are not voting for this rich actor’s adopted daughter who returned to the country when her father died and then decided to become a Filipino citizen in order to be qualified to become senator … sorry, in order to serve the country.

Delusional Filipinos are choosing her in presidential voting-preference surveys not even because she is the poor adopted child of that near-recluse Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) and actress Susan Roces. They are choosing her because somehow in their minds, she is the daughter of “Panday,” the mythical hero portrayed by FPJ in many box-office hits, or the daughter of the working-class, anti-rich protagonist as he had played onscreen several times.

Grace Llamanzares surrounded by posters of movies she should be grateful for.
Grace Llamanzares surrounded by posters of movies she should be grateful for.

This is not a conjecture. That Laylo survey reported that 45 percent of the 29 percent who chose Llamanzares for President picked her because she is “kind, like her father,” that she will “continue the good work of her father” and that she will “fulfill her father’s promises.” The father here obviously does not refer to FPJ, as a person but to his Panday image and other movie-screen heroes he had portrayed.

As amazing as that is the fact that a further 7 percent responded that they will vote for Llamanzares because she “provided housing for the poor, fought the rights of women, gave scholarships, helped calamity victims and helped those in financial need.” But Llamanzares really hasn’t done any of those: clearly they are projecting non-existent accomplishments on her, the result of their belief that she is a hero’s daughter who does such kind things.

Such delusion, the mix-up of reel and real, is certainly not an affliction solely of the poor, and therefore, uneducated. Llamanzares garnered the highest percentage of her supporters, 30 percent, among the ABC economic class, bigger than the 27 percent in the E class.

That is really a repeat of the presidential elections of 2004, when ousted President Joseph Estrada asked his best friend, Poe (Grace’s adoptive father), to run for the top post against President Arroyo. Estrada told the introverted actor to run and win the presidency, because otherwise, he would spend the rest of his life in jail for the plunder charges filed against him. Given that Poe lost by only 3 percentage points to Arroyo, Estrada thinks  Panday’s daughter can sneak into the tight race and win the presidency this year. Those behind Llamanzares are the same gang of supporters as Estrada’s shadowy cabal of Chinese Filipino businessmen that included William Gatchalian.

‘Mini-Me,’ the clone

Another candidate is “The Clone,” or a better “Mini-Me:” Manuel Roxas 2nd. “Mini-Me” is that character in those Austin Powers comedy movies – the clone of villain Dr. Evil, identical in every way with the main character but “one-eighth his size.” It was a hilarious scene when Dr. Evil, even if visibly disappointed that his clone is a dwarf, pompously dubs it “Mini-Me.” A similar scene came to mind when Aquino raised Roxas’ hand as he declared him the Administration’s candidate, even if he knew he was rating badly in the voter-preference polls.

Roxas is perceived as Aquino’s clone, his Mini-Me.
Roxas is perceived as Aquino’s clone, his Mini-Me.

Roxas is without a doubt the contest’s “Mini-Aquino” in the Laylo survey. A huge 42 percent chose him “because he will continue Aquino’s programs, such as the conditional cash-transfer program.” A further 10 percent did because he was endorsed by the President.

Roxas fits the role to a tee. The Mini-Me of the movies often hilariously tries to be tougher than Dr. Evil, only to hide later behind his boss’s legs. Roxas also often tries to appear tougher than Aquino, as when he told the Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez in the wake of Yolanda’s damage: “Let’s face it, you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino.” Or when he replied to Duterte’s remark that he would slap Roxas when he sees him: “Bakit pa sampalan, pambabae ‘yan, suntukan na lang, ‘di ba?” But he kept his mouth shut when Duterte challenged him to a gun duel.

What dooms Roxas, and explains his low ratings, is that while 42 percent of those who chose him did so because “he will continue Aquino’s programs,” 38 percent did not vote for him because he will be “like Aquino who hadn’t changed things in the country,” and that he is precisely a Mini-Me, “walang sariling decision, sunud-sunuran kay Aquino.” That is, it’s a wash being Aquino’s clone.

Dirty Harry, the sheriff

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is the contest’s Dirty Harry, the Wild West Sheriff. In the Laylo survey, nearly 70 percent picked him because of his tough anti-crime stance: “he is a disciplinarian and really punished criminals (22 percent),” “eradicated drug pushers and illegal drugs (20 percent),” “eradicated crime under his leadership (12 percent),” “strict in implementing the law (8 percent)” and “wielded the iron fist in disciplining Filipinos (7 percent).”

They’re voting for him not for his track record as mayor, but as the scourge of criminals.
They’re voting for him not for his track record as mayor, but as the scourge of criminals.

Duterte has been mayor of Davao City for 20 years since 1988 (his daughter Sarah became mayor so he could skirt the term limits), and a congressman from 1998 to 2001. But those who chose him perceived him almost totally as a man who vanquished crime and who could “discipline Filipinos.”

Duterte’s image is as the ruthless San Francisco detective Dirty Harry Callahan who didn’t hesitate to kill criminals where they stood, as portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the box-office hit movies where the lead character replaced the goody-goody iconic hero of the past.

Obviously huge sectors of Filipinos, tired of the wave of crimes that have grown worse under Aquino, want such a cold-blooded crime-buster as President.

But wasn’t Erap, with his PAOC nearly one, and aren’t most of our police, already of that kind?

The Mayor

About 20 percent of respondents chose Vice President Jejomar Binay because “he could replicate his success as mayor in developing Makati” on a national scale. (“Napaganda/napaunlad niya ang Makati, baka magawa niya sa buong bansa.”) The “good mayor” aiming for the presidency, that is.

His image as a good mayor survived the intense black-propaganda campaign, such as the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall II building.
His image as a good mayor survived the intense black-propaganda campaign, such as the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall II building.

This is the reason why the Aquino-Roxas camp undertook an expensive two-year campaign to defame Binay’s track record as mayor, and tried to show that his stint was one of corruption, the biggest instance of which, they alleged, was the purportedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II.

The Administration failed in this intense defamation campaign, even if it was supported by the biggest newspaper in the country, and the plot even back-fired, which explains why Binay is now leading in the voter-preference surveys.

The “Good Mayor” is a powerful image in national elections, given that most Filipinos’ encounter with government – especially outside the metropolis – is solely with a mayor. It is at that level where they can feel the impact of having a good or bad government representative, a mayor, on their lives.

However, the second biggest group of Binay’s supporters chose him not just because of his track record as Makati mayor. A significant 19 percent of those who favored him in the Laylo poll picked him because of his “wide experience in government.” This could be due to the fact that aside from being Makati mayor, he served the high-profile posts of Metro Manila Authority chairman from 1990 to 1992, and its successor institution, the Metro Manila Development Authority from 1998 to 2001.

Binay took a clever move when he collaborated with the Aquino Administration as that added to his political support base. Due to his work as Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns, 11 percent of respondents chose him because “he has helped OFWs in trouble in other countries.”

One of Binay’s strong points as revealed in the Laylo survey where 14 percent of those who supported him selected him because “he grew up poor, and therefore he is pro-poor.”

There has been no other presidential candidate – except Ramon Magsaysay, a former auto mechanic who won the presidency in 1953 – who managed to have such an image, which is an enormous edge in a country where I suspect more than 70 percent of voters see themselves as poor. (Manuel Villar tried to build up that image in the 2010 elections, and failed catastrophically as it backfired on him.)

Would you vote for somebody whose image is of the Snow White fairy-tale type? Would you vote to office a “Mini-Me” so we would have the same kind of government as we’ve had the past six years, a Mini-Me wielding the vast resources and power of the Republic of the Philippines as its leader?